Nashville-based Contour Airlines will start serving the regional airport at Fort Leonard Wood with 30-seat jets on Feb. 12.
That will be a upgrade from Cape Air, the current provider, and its nine-seat turbo-prop planes that have been flying out of the airport for the past eight years.
And the ninth passenger seat was actually the unused co-pilot’s seat.
“The bad news is you are no longer qualified to sit in the co-pilot’s seat,” said Matt Chaifetz, CEO of Contour Airlines, during the announcement Tuesday morning. “You won’t be doing that on our airplanes.”
Contour’s twice-daily departures to St. Louis’ Lambert Airport will be operated by a pilot, co-pilot and a flight attendant.
Local leaders are counting on the upgrade to increase ridership, lead to more federal money, and be a boost to the local economy.
St. Robert Mayor George Lauritson, who is also chairman of the airport board, said new money is on the way in, and more could be coming.
“We have state grants approved for a taxiway and a fuel road that hopefully will be starting shortly,” Lauritson said. “Also, we have a $2 million grant to improve our terminal and start the design work for an all-new terminal, eventually.”
Lauritson said the airport could also receive hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from the Federal Aviation Administration, if they reach certain passenger count goals. The incentive money comes in if the airport serves 8,000 or 10,000 riders per year.
Last year, the airport saw 7,900 people fly in and out of Waynesville/St. Robert at Fort Leonard Wood.
While many of those passengers are soldiers stationed at the base, the public can also use the airport. Chaifetz says he is expecting increased use by civilian and military passengers.
“I still think that there is some demand here that has yet to be realized that we can capitalize on. We’re here to grow this market,” Chaifetz said. “That’s our mission.”
One of the challenges to bringing the public in is to convince them that going through the security checkpoint at the main gate of Fort Leonard Wood is not inconvenient.
“It takes some time,” Chaifetz said. “But I will tell you that I’d rather go through the checkpoint at the entrance to the base and go through TSA here than drive to St. Louis and try to park and go through TSA at Lambert.”
The bigger jets will double the number of seats flying out of the airport each day. But Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman said the community still owes a debt of gratitude to Cape Air.
“They’ve been great partners. We’re going to miss them. We thank them. But as both of the cities and Fort Leonard Wood knows, we have to move on,” Hardman said. “I’m excited about jet service coming to our airport.”
Contour Airlines began as a charter flight company but started providing passenger service to underserved airports three years ago. Waynesville/St. Robert is its 15th city. Chaifetz said the airline’s goals for the first two years are to clear the 8,000 and 10,000 passenger levels that will get the airport more federal funding.
After that, he said, it’s possible destinations could be added.
“We’re here because we see the potential in this market, and if the potential in this market warrants demand to another hub — whether it be Nashville or anywhere else — and if we think that’s a viable opportunity, I’m all for it,” Chaifetz said.
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